Budget breakdown: state spending

Lawmakers and Treasurer Andrew Eristoff will likely delve into some of the more technical aspects of Gov. Christie's budget in hearings Wednesday and Thursday. Typically in these kinds of settings, Democrats and Republicans each pick the numbers that sound best for their own arguments, and repeat their claims throughout the budget debate. To help make sense of the arguments, here's a breakdown on one of the central arguments Christie has made: that he is steeply cutting state spending.

Normally, it would be simple to compare year-to-year budgets. Not this year. To start, Gov. Corzine's 2009-2010 budget depended on more than $2 billion of federal stimulus money, but did not count that sum in its bottom line. Then he proposed $872 million of additional spending after the budget was signed. Then Christie cut roughly $2 billion mid-fiscal year. He proposed a new budget with less stimulus spending, but actually increased the state's costs in order to again pick up the burden that was covered by the federal government (got all that?)

So, there are many ways to compare the budgets. Here's a quick guide to hopefully help make sense of the issue.

Corzine last June signed a budget that spent just under $29 billion in state funds. In addition, he relied on $2.3 billion in federal stimulus dollars. Then there was another $872 million of state spending added mid-fiscal year. That brings the state total to $29.9 billion without stimulus aid, or $32.2 billion if you count the stimulus money.

That's what Christie inherited in January.

In February he cut some $2 billion in spending from the Corzine plan. That brings the state's actual 2009-2010 tab to around $27 billion to $28 billion. (Again, not counting stimulus funds).

Now jump to the plan currently being debated. Christie has proposed spending $28.3 billion of state money and another $1 billion of stimulus funds.

Here's where the fight starts. Looked at one way - if you count all stimulus funds within the budget - Christie's $29.3 billion plan is down $2.85 billion, or 8.9 percent, from the $32.2 billion budget he governor inherited.

Much of that cut -- the $1.3 billion drop in stimulus aid -- was pre-determined, because the state only received so much federal support. Christie still had to deal with the consequences of that.

If we focus only on state funds, which Christie had direct control over, there is more debate. On one hand, his call for $28.3 billion of state spending is down $1.6 billion, 5.3 percent, from what he inherited in January. But if you count Christie's February budget cuts, which got state spending down to the $28 billion range, his proposed 2010-2011 budget technically spends more state dollars ($28.3 billion). Part of this increase is needed to make up for lost stimulus funds.

Some Christie critics have used this argument to say he is not cutting nearly as much as he contends.

On the other hand, state spending is only up compared to the trimmed-down budget Christie had previously cut.

Overall spending for fiscal year 2011, with or without stimulus dollars counted, would still be down from when Christie came into office in January.

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